Throughout the season, the ASU Devils Den football podcast has its “Three Tines to the Game.” In honor of the tines on Sparky’s pitchfork, this podcast segment focuses on three keys to a game. In this case, we cover the three key items for the team to achieve during its spring practice session, which begins Tuesday, March 19, at 8:30 a.m. at Kajikawa Practice Facility.
First Tine of Spring Practice: Improving Run Defense
While the ASU defense put up tremendous sack and tackles for loss numbers, there was a less discussed scarier statistic that should open fans eyes. In 2012, the Sun Devil defense finished 77th in rushing yards allowed per game in the entire FBS. The 172 rushing yards allowed per game is twice the number Stanford gave up (87.7) which finished third overall in FBS. Therefore, improving this number will be critical in achieving the team’s goals of winning the Pac-12 for 2013.
Obviously, power running teams exposed the thin, and ultra aggressive defensive line in 2012. During spring practice, the starting linemen of Will Sutton, Jaxon Hood, and Davon Coleman must be more consistent in tying up linemen and stopping the creation of holes. Linebackers Anthony Jones and Steffon Martin will have to step up to fill the void of Brandon Magee in plugging the holes. It’s imperative to remain an attacking defense, but stopping the run still has to be the focus of this line throughout the spring.
Certainly ASU showed they can be a dominant run stopping defense during the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl against Navy. However, ASU faces Wisconsin and Stanford to begin the 2013 season, which is a much different level. These two programs are known for big, powerful offensive lines and a grinding, power running game. The defensive unit will have to get even stouter against the run. Later this summer, big and powerful JC linemen Marcus Hardison and Demetrius Cherry join the line ranks to solidify that second unit. This will help with the depth issue and the starting unit tiring out toward the end of games. Also, the unit will have another year in Shawn Griswald’s strength and conditioning program, something very beneficial for freshman All-American Hood.
Second Tine of Spring Practice: Define and Solidify the New Offensive Line
Senior right guard Andrew Sampson and senior right tackle Brice Schwab have moved on from the program, so two holes are open on the offensive line. Certainly, Evan Finkenberg at left tackle and Kody Koebensky at center are locks. Left guard Jamil Douglas is probably a lock to start also, but it could be at right tackle or his 2012 position of left guard. New offensive line coach Chris Thomsen has plenty of talent to fill the two open spots. If Thomsen wants to keep consistency with the 2012 unit by keeping the athletic Douglas at left guard, then Vi Teofilo, Stephon McCray, and Mo Latu would battle for right guard. With the addition of mid-year JC signee Nick Kelly to the unit as a back-up center, Latu could be shifted over to guard. Evan Goodman and Tyler Sulka could battle for the right tackle spot. Sulka saw action on the field in 2012 as the third offensive tackle in some formations, but all Sun Devil fans know Evan Goodman has tremendous talent.
The key to defining and solidifying a new offensive line during the spring can be seen by the offensive line results in 2012. While players like Teofilo, Latu, and Goodman may have more athleticism and potential than some of the 2012 starters, the team starting unit of Finkenberg, Douglas, Koebensky, Sampson, and Schwab worked together every single day so that the five offensive linemen were acting as one complete unit. The new 2013 offensive line unit will have early season tests against top defensive teams Stanford and Notre Dame.
Third Tine of Spring Practice: Developing More Quarterback and Wide Receiver Timing and Comfort
Last spring, the Sun Devils were rotating quarterbacks as the three-way battle between Mike Bercovici, Michael Eubank, and Taylor Kelly was the main agenda item. Now that Kelly has solidified as the Sun Devil starter, Kelly can continue developing with the current wide receiver core on timing and route running.
Without starters Rashad Ross and Jamal Miles next season, Kelly will be working with Kevin Ozier, Alonzo Agwuenu, and Richard Smith all spring. Last season, tight end Chris Coyle, running back Marion Grice, and running back DJ Foster were three of ASU’s top four receivers. This is a key aspect of the Coach Graham/Offensive Coordinator Mike Norvell system, but the Sun Devils need more explosive plays from the wide receiver group. Additionally, the wide receivers need to be more consistent with their route running and catching ability.
Timing and trust is built through more repetitions, and this spring is a key growth and learning experience for Kelly and the wide receivers.
There are some other key points to work in spring practice like place kicking, special teams coverage units, developing a safety to replace Keelan Johnson, but these three are our “Three Tines to Spring Practice.”
What are some other issues that the Sun Devils can work on during spring practice?